Stretch marks (also referred to as streas) are long red, purple or pink lines that appear on your skin. A stretch mark is actually a scar, initially happening as a tearing in the dermis (which is the middle layer of the skin) due to overstretching. In other words, streas usually appear when the connective tissue of the skin is stretched beyond the possible limits of elasticity.
Stretch marks develop when the underlying tissues grow faster than the dermis, causing the dermis to tear. These tears leave linear striations on the upper layer of skin (epidermis) where the tissue has visibly thinned. (Source)
Women are more prone to developing stretch marks than men do, yet it is only true to a certain point, since the factors are the same for both genders, expect probably the one with pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The most common symptom before stretch marks occur is itchy, red and irritated skin. The color of the lines will eventually fade and become less prominent leaving nothing more than a cosmetic defect on your skin (they are not physically dangerous, however, they mess up your self-esteem and raise anxiety) but it usually takes a couple of years.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Despite the fact that there are many reasons for developing stretch marks, the major one will surprise you.
It’s actually YOUR GENETICS and the family history of having stretch marks. For example, if your mom had them, it’s highly likely you will get them, too.
Other causes of stretch marks are these:
- Rapid growth during puberty, plus some hormonal changes (I’m pretty sure this is why I got mine)
- Rapid weight gain and weight loss
- During pregnancy and breastfeeding (when skin’s elasticity is pushed to the limits)
- Some health conditions may also cause stretch marks
- After the prolonged use of corticosteroids. If there is an overproduction of corticosteroid, less collagen is produced and the skin is less able to flex (source)
- Too much cortisone in your blood. This hormone negatively affects your skin’s elasticity
Where Do Stretch Marks Appear?
The most affected areas of the body where stretch marks may appear are:
- Belly (especially during pregnancy)
- Upper arms
- In rare cases stretch marks may appear on the face (usually caused by Cushing’s syndrome – when the blood has high levels of a specific hormone called cortisol)
Do Stretch Marks Go Away Once They Appeared?
They are highly likely going to stay just where they occured. However, they do fade and change its color from purple to light silver or white and may cause less disturbances to you.
Do I Have Stretch Marks?
Yes, unfortunately, I do. I have stretch marks all over my butt. They are old, white and I actually managed to ignore them. They appeared on my skin when I was 15. I was a little shocked to see all my buttocks covered with red stripes like I was scratched by a really fierce cat (or better say angry tiger lol).
I remember asking my mom about them and her answer was: «I have no idea, darling» (ah, lucky one!)
So I thought they would magically disappear. But they didn’t. Instead they faded a little bit and became white, looking uglier than ever. It bothered me too much. I then started digging in to find the way of getting rid of them (or reverse time!). I succeed in neither of that. So I still got them 13 years later with one big difference – my self-esteem is back!
Having armed with the knowledge on the topic I now can roughly assume why I got these stretch marks:
- I was a tall girl and my skin wasn’t ready to grow so fast?
- Hormonal imbalance (I’ve got some thyroid issues which I didn’t know about when I was 15)
- I didn’t know how to take care of my skin (moisturizing cream after a shower? Every time? Get out of town!)
- I wasn’t really eating healthily (I think so! Too many carbs were in my diet back there)
- I assume I might have had lack of some essential nutrients responsible for skin’s elasticity
I never got any more stretch marks and then I got pregnant and my fear came back. I didn’t want to have more, so I’ve armed myself with google and all the knowledge it could have given me.
Here’s the best information I found useful.
How To Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy
While genetics and rapid weight gain are two main factors for developing stretch marks (with both striking you during pregnancy), it is totally possible to prevent the tearing of your skin from overstretching as your bump is starting to grow, so do not get discouraged ahead of time.
Usually, if stretch marks appear during pregnancy, they will do so in the last couple of months when your belly is growing rapidly. Hormonal changes may also affect your skin’s elasticity, thus in order to minimise the risks of getting stretch marks, the best way is to gain weight steadily.
9 Steps That Will Definitely Help You Prevent Pregnancy Stretch Marks
Disclaimer: I don’t guarantee that if you do all nine, your body will be free from streas. Unfortunately, I can’t predict how flexible your skin will be during pregnancy. I still believe the major factor for stretch marks’ appearance is your genetics and family history. However, I do believe that following the steps I give below will tremendously help your skin to stay on a healthy side, be moisturized, strong, pretty flexible and overall look amazing!
1. Drink more water
Staying hydrated is extremely important, since it helps the skin to be soft, prevent drying out and sagging. Make sure to drink caffeine-free beverages, like herbal teas, rooibos teas and water with lemon.
2. Control your weight
Your skin is most vulnerable and prone to stretch marks during periods of rapid weight gain or weight loss. Eating a healthy diet and having a steady exercising routine during pregnancy is your best bet.
This will definitely help you put on weight slowly and probably even having a belly-only pregnancy! It means that getting your body back after baby (postpartum weight loss) will be a breeze.
3. Don’t eat for two!
This will help you maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
The most common misconception is that a pregnant woman should be eating for two. I don’t know where it comes from but this myth should be busted once and for all.
You don’t need any additional calories during the 1st trimester of pregnancy. In the second trimester, eat as many as 300 extra calories. As for the last trimester, 500 calories will do. There! No eating for two, you see? Just an extra sandwich a day.
4. Get more vitamin C
This nutrient is extremely important for our skin’s healthy and glowing wrinkles-free look. Vitamin C plays the main part in collagen production making your skin strong and resilient.
5. Stay under the sun (or take vitamin D supplements)
Vitamin D is responsible for so many functions in our body. Lack of this vital nutrient leads to many health problems. Turns out, if your body stores run low on vitamin D, it increases the risk of stretch marks’ appearance. According to this study, there is a correlation between streas and lack of vitamin D.
6. Cut down on caffeine
What? Why? I mean, I am a coffee maniac. I wasn’t ready to cut it off completely neither during pregnancy, nor while breastfeeding. But when I found out what it does to our skin, I managed to cut it down to one cup a day.
Why is caffeine bad for your skin? It makes your body lose water, since caffeine is a well-known diuretic, so if you don’t balance it out with plenty of water, it will drain your skin out of fluids.
7. Stop smoking
This one must be solved by now! (I hope!) To cut it short, nicotine destroys collagen and elastin in the skin, so woman who smoke are not only at a higher risk of having stretch marks, their skin is also aging too fast!
8. Break up with sugar
Yes, you read it right and I really truly mean it! Why? Excessive sugar consumption leads to skin’s aging, like super fast, which in its turn reduces the production of collagen and elastin in the skin responsible for skin’s health and flexibility.
Just so you know, excessive eating is not like you swallow the whole cake and do it regularly. The healthy amount of daily consumption of sugar is 30 grams. Do you know how much that is? That’s 6 teaspoons (or cubes). Do you know how many products contain hidden sugars? Did you know that fruits also count as eating sugar?
Best advice here is to rethink your sugar intake. READ LABELS! Practice mindful eating! Find alternatives.
9. Moisturize A LOT!
You wanna make sure you do everything you can to help your skin stay healthy and beautiful. Although using creams, oils and other ointments lack scientific backing in terms of stretch mark prevention, they wouldn’t hurt eather. You may use every moisturising cream you like. My fav is Palmer’s Butter. I use it every time after the shower.
Bonus: Best Stretch Mark Prevention Cream
Here’s the best DIY belly cream to prevent pregnancy stretch marks from Dr. Tabasum Mir. Made with simple ingredients. Super easy and extremely nourishing.
What If Nothing Worked And You Did Have Stretch Marks During Pregnancy?
Do not panic! Statisctics shows that over 50 percent of women have stretch marks within the period of pregnancy. It means there’s 50/50 chance every one of us would experience streas during pregnancy.
However, I don’t see anything terrible in this circumstance. Yes, stretch marks may look awful and cause you a lot of distress, however, this is only a question of your attutude.
Contemporary world is pressuring us with the concept of ideal woman’s body having no fat, cellulite, stretch marks, no flaws whatsoever. The society is pushing this picture through the limits.
In a reality what we have is that even supermodels do not have perfect bodies! They do have cellulite, they do have stretch marks and tons of other stuff that is so masterfully covered by photoshop.
Candice Swanepoel has an amazing body, but still not perfect with a little cellulite and stretch marks on her butt. A reality that is absolutely normal! She’s still hot and sexy. No stretch marks prevent her from being one of the most sought-after supermodels every designer wants to work with. Because it’s not about the looks, it’s about your personality that makes you special!
I do have plenty of old faded stretch marks on my butt, so what? Am I less attractive because of them? Hell, no! My husband didn’t even notice them until one day I told him and showed exactly what it was.
We are too obsessed with looks. And they are not everything.
Yet, in case stretch marks are causing you a lot of discomfort and lower your self-esteem, here’s what you can do to make things better.
Best Treatment For Pregnancy Stretch Marks (Actually, any stretch marks!)
As you already know from this article, stretch marks are scars formed from teared tissue in the middle layer of the skin (which is dermis). Thus, you may be absolutely sure, no cream will ever help if stretch marks has already appeared, because the molecules of over-the-counter beauty creams (mostly, any creams!) are too big to penetrate further than the upper layer of the skin (epidermis). So, in order to get rid of streas or at least make them less visible, you will need to opt for some serious types of treatments. Nowadays, there are three possible options available.
With that being said, all the methods of treating stretch marks I will list below are stricktly forbiden during pregnancy and breastfeeding. So make sure to first stop breastfeeding to start the treatment and put off your planning for the next baby until you finish the procedures.
Tretinoin Creams (Retino-A)
Tretinoin cream is a topical ointment consisting of retinoids – a special form of vitamin A that is able to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin to rebuild collagen and heal the teared tissue (that is exactly what we are looking for, right?). However, this cream is best if used for fresh stretch marks that are still purple.
And never ever do you use retinoid creams while pregnant or trying to conceive. All forms of retinoids are known to cause birth defects. Although the cream from of retinoids you apply on your face (or other parts of your body) is not proven to be dangerous, I wouldn’t use it during pregnancy, because the cream does penetrate to the deeper levels of your skin and I’m sure it has the ability to build up and raise the level of vit A in your blood. So just be careful with that one.
Microdermabrasion is a safe, non-surgical procedure that works by removing dead skin cells from the upper layer of the skin with the help of micro aluminum oxide crystals interaction with the skin’s surface.
Not a very pleasant option, since it might hurt and bring some discomfort for a couple of days after the procedure, yet the good news is this method works great in terms of fading the old stretch marks.
5 Great things microdermabrasion does for skin with stretch marks:
- Exfoliates the upper layer of the skin
- Stimulates the production of collagen and elastin
- Helps other cosmetic products penetrate to the deeper level of the skin and work more effectively
- Enables better lymph flow and blood circulation (meaning, good bye cellulite!)
- Improves the texture of the skin and its tone
Probably one of the most effective treatments for stretch marks is that with a laser. However, as with the other options, the laser will give best results in fresh streas that are still red or purple.
Can laser fully erase stretch marks? Unfortunately, no, since they take place in the middle layer of the skin and there is no amount of renewing that can erase them. Yet, there are certain studies that show the patients got up to 50% improvements in the appearance of stretch marks, specifically, the changes were most noticable in the shrinked depth of streas.
The procedure is a little on the pricey side, so think twice before actually giving it a green light.
What About You?
Have you struggled with stretch marks yet? Did you have them during pregnancy? What did you do to prevent or treat streas? How do feel yourself about having them? Share your opinion and helpful tips in comments below.